Happy Earth Day 2011:
From The Archives…
Offering a Blessing for Future Generations and Tossing a Pinch Of Ardis and Philip Hyde’s Ashes in The Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)
This was the 50th blog post of Landscape Photography Blogger. Originally published April 22, 2010.
Update (2012): Please see my blog post, “Earth Day 2012 Review: Are Social Media Earth Friendly?”
(This year  I was traveling on the days around Earth Day and in airports and airplanes most of Earth Day itself. Not so Earth-friendly, but it was for a good cause.)
Back to 2010…. To celebrate this milestone and Earth Day, I have posted a journal entry from July 30, 2008, that I wrote in Canyonlands National Park. I originally planned to start Landscape Photography Blogger with this post.
A Mission And Pilgrimage
A few months before my father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde passed on, he and I talked about taking a small amount of my mother Ardis Hyde’s ashes and his ashes, mixing them together and sprinkling just a pinch in some of their favorite places they helped preserve like Canyonlands National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and other monuments and wilderness areas of the Southwestern Desert Landscape, the California Mountains and elsewhere. This is of course not legal, but a small pinch would not hurt anything. It would merely nourish the sage and primrose.
Most of their ashes are sprinkled around in the woods and gardens of the home I grew up in that they built in the wilderness of the northern Sierra Nevada in Northeastern California. I would begin to distribute the rest from a small pouch on my way from Boulder, Colorado back to the family home in California. I planned to visit Canyonlands National Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, The North Rim of The Grand Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park and Death Valley National Park to throw a pinch of ashes and say a word of tribute in each.
The Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
I arrived at the Needles, Canyonlands National Park, in Southeastern Utah, at 2:00 A.M. after driving 450 miles from Boulder, Colorado. I found the campground and backed into a site nestled between house-sized rock domes and the stars. A brief stop in Moab, Utah at the City Market for some area guides confirmed what I remembered from the National Park Service website. Canyonlands is Utah’s largest national park, 35 miles Southwest of Moab, downstream from where the mighty Colorado River meets the Green River. The Green River and the Colorado River divide Canyonlands National Park into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles. The meanders of the two rivers come to confluence and form essentially the shape of a giant lower case “y.” Moab and Arches National Park are on the tip of the right branch of the “y” and the center of the “y” where the rivers meet is the heart of Canyonlands. Island in the Sky, to the North between the branches of the “y,” is the easiest part of the Canyonlands National Park to access by car, with plenty of paved roads, parking lots, turnouts and scenic overlooks.
The Maze, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
The Maze, to the West of the confluence of the two rivers, is the most wild and remote of the districts of Canyonlands National Park. Art and his son A. C. Ekker guided Dad, Mom, photographers Parker “Ham” Hamilton and Dilly Hamilton and myself at age 2 1/2 into The Maze in 1968. For many years, I was the youngest person to ever ride horseback into The Maze and may be still. I rode in front of my mother in the saddle. Art and A. C. Ekker also ran the nearby Robber’s Roost Ranch that had been a stronghold for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch in the late 1800’s. Today there are even hiking trails into The Maze but it takes a full day in a 4X4 vehicle just to get into this remotest part of Canyonlands National Park, The Maze proper. The literature and websites all recommend allowing an average of five to seven days for a trip even by vehicle. They also caution to go in well provisioned.
The Needles district to the South and East of the confluence of the two mighty rivers is partially accessible by car, but it is farther from the main highway on a half pavement, half dirt road. Dad made photographs in all three districts, but the Needles looked the most promising for a compromise between accessibility and being, as my dad would play on words, “Picture Skew.”
I crawled into my sleeping bag in my pickup camper shell at the campground in The Needles, Canyonlands National Park at around 3 a. m. after gazing at the stars and brushing my teeth at the water spicket. There were no campsites across the road from me and those on either side were empty. I was alone in the smell of sagebrush and wrapped in the dark desert night.
Nature’s Morning Show At Canyonlands
The next morning, or rather, later that morning just barely at first light, I awoke at 6:15 a.m., ready to go, not even tired. I noted that this or earlier was the time Dad would have awakened to photograph if he was still with me in body. As I rolled out of the camper shell, a panorama of red, brown, tan, orange and all colors in between splashed in horizontal bands across a collection of mesas, spires, hoodoos, domes and rock columns, stretching out before me in every direction. The glow of pre-sunrise dawn made me wish I had a camera. I woke up inside a Needles postcard. As I drove to the end of the campground, the sun crested the horizon. Nature’s show was on. It also dawned on me that this was the time Dad passed away.
As I drove with eyes taking in the splendor, knowing Dad and Mom would love this moment, I thought back to the morning of Dad’s passing two years prior, at the end of March in 2006. He was in the desert then too, but in very different surroundings. He was in a room on the Neurosciences Wing of Washoe Medical Center, now Renown Medical Center, in Reno, Nevada. I remember the overnight nurse assured me that if Dad died on her shift, she would see him start to take agonal breaths and call me. I had already been by his side a week and had read to him late into the night, but decided to get some sleep. He had already lasted a week in his post-massive stroke state, and I didn’t know when he might go.
Philip Hyde Climbs The Mountains For Their Good Tidings One Last Time
The nurse did call me but she said he had already slipped away without so much as a single agonal breath. He went easy in the very end. Perhaps he wanted to get out of that hospital bed and that body that didn’t work like it had so well most of his life. I imagined at the time that perhaps he left his body behind early in the morning to take a few last mental exposures of the beautiful snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains visible in the distance outside the hospital window.
Until he died, Dad often recited by heart two appropriate quotes by John Muir, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Dad also had memorized this quote by John Muir, “I want immortality to read this terrestrial language. This good and tough mountain-climbing flesh is not my final home, and I’ll creep out of it, and fly free and grow.” I thought of those two favorites of Dad’s that he also published in his last book, The Range of Light, the name John Muir called the Sierra Nevada. Dad intended The Range of Light as a tribute to John Muir, Dad’s life-long inspiration, and to the Sierra Nevada, particularly Yosemite National Park, Dad’s spiritual home since age 16.
A quiet man slipped out of life softly. I was sad that I had missed the moment of death and that I had not been there for him. Though that was his way, he never called attention to himself or asked others to trouble about him. By the time I arrived at his bedside, about 15 minutes from getting the call in bed in my hotel room on the far end of the huge hospital campus, his face was already turning an off shade. As I sobbed, the nurses were reassuring that he went without any pain. Then I felt him. I felt something, maybe it was my imagination, but it felt like something more. I felt his joy at being free of that worn-out shell. I realized that he had left to “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” one last time. He flew free to see the sunrise and I found him gone just like I had 1,000 times before.
On dozens, perhaps hundreds of trips with him, throughout my life, I woke up and found him gone. He was typically gone out in the field taking photographs, starting much earlier than I usually awakened. I woke up often to the smell of my mother’s breakfast cooking and her coffee brewing. That morning in Reno, I woke up and found Dad gone for the last time, probably carrying a 4X5 baby Deardorff camera as he soared over canyons and mountaintops, just like the famous Cartoon of Ansel Adams in heaven looking down on Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.
In The Needles, Canyonlands National Park, On The Slickrock Nature Trail
In Canyonlands National Park two years later, I woke up about the same time, at photography hour. How fitting, here I was in the heart of Canyonlands, at a short trailhead called Slickrock, no less. That was the name of Dad’s now collectible book with Edward Abbey in the renowned Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series that helped to expand Canyonlands National Park in 1971. For more on Edward Abbey, read the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?”
“Slickrock, a general term for any bare rock surface,” the trail brochure said, “dominates much of the landscape in Canyonlands.” I remember Dad saying that there are dozens of places named Slickrock in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The slickrock my dad photographed Mom and me standing on for the title page of the book Slickrock, could be anywhere in this country but was near the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, also in Utah. At the end of this Slickrock Trail in the Needles, I will be only a little over a mile from pavement, not much by Dad’s standards, but at least off the road.
Whew, it was already hot at 8 a. m. Fortunately, I found enough shade under an overhanging rock wall to stop and write more. I see the mesas of Island in the Sky to the North in the distance to the left of the La Sal Mountains on the horizon. The smell of Pinon pine, Juniper, sage and dust fill my nose, while the sandpaper of sandstone under foot catches the soles of my cross-trainers. The trail brochure map indicates that the trail ends out on a point where canyons on either side narrow the mesa. Once I made it out there, I ventured out on a side arm of the mesa. I scrambled out to the end where there is a stair-step down from the rim. I stood on the rim looking down probably 1,000 or more feet, though the next ledge of the stair-step jutted into space just three stories distance below.
Above Big Springs Canyon, In The Heart of Canyonlands
I sat near the edge to write more of this. This place was perfect for tossing my parent’s ashes—in the heart of Canyonlands—within sight of Grandview Point and Junction Butte to the North. Near the end of the sandstone mesa top, to my right, stood an ancient dead Juniper tree skeleton that looked like it belonged in a Philip Hyde photograph. I opened the ornate little pouch from India and the sealed plastic bag of ashes inside. It was quite still for the edge of a canyon, just a faint breeze. I reached into the bag, took a three-fingered pinch of ashes and flung them into the air over Big Springs Canyon.
“For all the generations to come,” I said, “a blessing and prayer for Ardis And Philip Hyde. Here’s to Canyonlands, birthplace of many beautiful photographs and memories.” As I sat down on the very edge with just my feet, not my legs dangling, part of my pinch of ashes must have caught an updraft and drifted high, far out over the canyon. Some of it may drift over the Southwest still; while a moment later I heard the heavier bone fragments hit the ledge below.
To read more about my personal experiences with my father see the blog post, “Memories Of Finally Working With Dad.”